Nicotine Receptors Potential Target for Treating Alzheimer’s

Young caregiver holding elderly person's handsIn a study published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, blocking the brain’s nicotine receptors prevented Alzheimer’s-related memory loss in mice. Previous studies have pointed to the potential benefits of nicotine consumption, though the downsides of the substance generally outweigh the benefits for many. This study offers a clearer understanding of nicotine’s role in memory.

Like all animal studies, it is unclear whether this approach could also work in humans. However, many treatments that were initially effective in mice have eventually proven beneficial to humans, so the study may offer new avenues for Alzheimer’s researchers to explore.

The Role of Nicotine Receptors in Alzheimer’s

Most research points to the role of amyloid beta plaques in the development of Alzheimer’s. These plaques damage nerve cells, contributing to memory loss and overall cognitive decline. By the time these plaques are detectable on a brain scan, most people with Alzheimer’s already have extensive symptoms.

Using mice as their subjects, researchers investigated how nicotine receptors play a role in the accumulation of these plaques. They looked at acetylcholine receptors—sometimes called nicotinic receptors—which help nerve cells communicate with the outside world. Nicotinic receptors play a role in memory, attention, anxiety, sleep, and a number of other vital functions.

The team focused their attention on one subunit, known as β2, located in the brain’s hippocampus. By blocking the gene that codes for this subunit in mice, they were able to successfully prevent the development of amyloid beta plaques, as well as the outward symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

The research suggests one mechanism through which scientists could eventually block the development of amyloid beta plaques, protecting against the symptoms they eventually produce. The researchers say the next step would be to find something that could effectively block the subunit without the other harmful effects of nicotine.

Another recent study suggests an experimental drug for Alzheimer’s treatment could potentially remove these plaques from the brain, but researchers of that study caution that the sample size was not large enough to prove the drug works. In much of the current research on Alzheimer’s, new pathways to explore different treatments have been identified, but not definitively proven.

The Mental Health Toll of Alzheimer’s

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5.1 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, and 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. The effects of this diagnosis extend far beyond those with the condition, because Alzheimer’s demands time-consuming care and is not curable.

On average, family caregivers spend more than $5,000 per year caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Caregivers may struggle with depression, financial stress, and chronic health problems, particularly if they have inadequate support.


  1. Caregiver depression. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  2. Feller, S. (2016, August 29). Brain’s nicotine receptors may be target for Alzheimer’s treatment. Retrieved from
  3. Latest Alzheimer’s facts and figures. (2013, September 17). Retrieved from
  4. Lombardo, S., Catteau, J., Besson, M., & Maskos, U. (2016). A role for β2* nicotinic receptors in a model of local amyloid pathology induced in dentate gyrus. Neurobiology of Aging, 46, 221-234. doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2016.06.005

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Anderson


    September 6th, 2016 at 4:45 PM

    Did I miss how this ties into smoking?

  • Faye


    September 7th, 2016 at 2:10 PM

    You would have to show me much more convincing evidence that this could be a way to look at smoking as something other than deadly.

  • derrick


    September 9th, 2016 at 1:56 PM

    How very odd how these things could be connected
    things that you never even think would have any sort of relation to one another
    and here we are talking about it, like it could be a major new advancement in this fight

  • Coleman


    September 12th, 2016 at 2:45 PM

    The talk of those plaques makes me wonder about heart disease correlation.

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